High-performers in the Workplace: How to Identify and Develop Your A-Team

Why do some companies succeed while others fail? Why is it so difficult to perform at a high level? And what is the best way to improve performance? The key to a company’s success is to keep the level of employees’ performance and engagement high. But such high-performance culture in the workplace demands a lot of efforts from executives, L&D professionals, the HR department, and managers. It’s about setting a vision for an organization that always improves its standards, looks for innovations in its industry and adapts to the ever-changing world. Such forward-thinking organizations will have more opportunities to attract and retain high-performing employees who will drive business growth.

As a company who has worked with various organizations across many industries, we analyzed our data and developed best practices that foster a high-performance culture within companies.

Five features of high-performers in the workplace

On average, high-performers achieve 400% more than the average employee; that’s why Fortune 100 companies provide them with continuous opportunities for professional growth and development. But before developing high-performers, you have to find them among your workforce. Here are five traits to look for in your employees that might tell you which of them perform at their best.

  1. They are goal seekers.

High-performers never stay in one place; they always look for meaningful work and various opportunities to master their skills and learn more. For them, completing goals means self-developing and making valuable contributions to business growth. For you, helping them set and achieve goals is a good way to motivate, develop, and support your employees by providing all the necessary tools to achieve professional and personal goals.

  1. They crave feedback.

Ongoing relevant feedback is like oxygen for high-performing employees, since it provides a clear picture of how they can improve their performance and enhance their expertise. They are open to feedback, but they want to hear more than just a “good job”. Tell them directly what they did right or wrong, offer suggestions, and ask for their opinion.

  1. They always seek opportunities to learn and develop.

High-performers have a growth mindset and always take the initiative to improve their current skills and refresh knowledge. They are a perfect example of lifelong learners who are not afraid to look for help outside of the company and talk to other people to get valuable tips. They like mentorship, seeing it as a good opportunity to turn other people’s experiences into their own adaptability and flexibility.

  1. They are achievement-oriented.

Setting goals is great but achieving them is exhilarating for high-performers. Such employees are known for their can-do attitude. This attitude helps them to not only overcome difficult and challenging tasks but also motivates them to keep going. They are the ones who want to prove to themselves and others that there’s nothing they can’t do. They strive to make realistic promises but always overdeliver in the end.  

  1. They are workaholics.

While being on the road to achieve their professional goals, even the most avid workhorses can envy the high-performers’ degree of persistence. If they’re engulfed by the task they do, they won’t notice how quickly time goes by. They will do late night calls concerning job-related issues and will be the first to come to the office. Such behavior is not episodic: it’s their routine.

Manage well, develop effectively. How to engage high-performers

Okay, so now you know who among your employees are high-performers. Here comes the next challenge: how do you retain them and encourage their further development? Even if they’re constantly looking for opportunities to learn and develop, it doesn’t mean that you can let matters stand. Companies need to be proactive in developing and engaging high-performers; otherwise, they will quit. If employees don’t feel that their organization ensures their professional development, they will look for other opportunities. Let’s look closer at the steps you can take to make your high-performers happy, loyal, productive, and motivated.

  • Set clear goals

While setting business goals for high-performers to achieve, make sure that these goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). Your employees will want to know how each task or project will contribute to their self-development. To drive employees’ performance and engagement, ensure that these goals are not easily achievable. Yes, high-performers love tackling challenges; but if the tasks are too easy, they will lose interest very quickly and will seek for other career opportunities. However, if the goals are too difficult, it can be demotivating and might cause employee burnout.

  • Don’t stand in their way

Micromanagement will only irritate your high-performers. Even if you’re sure that you know the industry better, or you have a ready-made solution, don’t scream about it into your employees’ ears. Lead them but don’t be too bothersome. Once you’ve set KPIs and provided all necessary tools, let your high-performers act on their own. Autonomy is highly appreciated among high-performing teams and team members.

  • Provide all necessary tools for success

Your high-performers will do their best armed with only relevant resources be it mentorship by senior employees, training focused on a specific topic, needed equipment or tools, and the like. Make sure that nothing hinders their performance and remove any productivity obstacles on time.

  • Forget about non-productive meetings

If you don’t have clear agendas laid out, it’s better to cancel such meetings. To ensure time is well-spent, talk with your high-performers about their needs, desirable resources, obstacles, professional goals, possible career paths, and other relevant things. Give them constructive feedback on their performance and work together on its improvement.

  • Offer opportunities for growth

Routine kills productivity. Whether it’s new exciting tasks, mentorship opportunities, training courses, team projects, or promotions and new roles, your high-performers will demand a dynamic workplace. If they are unmotivated, they will leave.

  • Foster flexibility

High-performers love autonomy, and it also concerns the way they prefer to work. As long as they meet deadlines, complete tasks successfully, and stick to your company’s policy, let them set their working schedules or even work remotely. It’s obvious that high-performers would rather spend an additional two or three hours working on an interesting project rather than commuting.

  • Ensure they know how to relax

Being natural workaholics, your high-performers might not understand when they’re starting to deplete their resources. Ensure they keep a work-life balance and actually use their time off. Physically and psychologically drained employees won’t perform well; moreover, they’re more likely to suffer from burnout.

  • Recognize and share their success

Remember than can-do attitude? When your high-performers achieve big goals or complete important tasks/projects they worked on in their free time, talk about it! Let them know how much you value their contribution to encourage them to do even better and stay highly engaged.

  • Provide open communication

Trust is highly appreciated among high-performers. Make sure that there’s open, transparent, and honest communication within your company. Don’t ignore your high-performing employees, actively participate in their initiatives, and ensure that there are no miscommunications.

Remember: Bad managers hinder high-performance culture development

The Gallup’s State of the American Manager report states that 50% of promising employees leave companies just to “get away from their manager”. Losing high-performers means hurting productivity. Moreover, if the best quit, it might be a signal for other employees to jump ship. That’s why it’s very important to constantly train your managers and improve their leadership skills. If you hear one of the following phrases from your managers, it’s time to act.

“They’re adults. Can’t they solve their conflicts on their own?”

People are different, so the appearance of conflicts in the workplace is a common thing. If your high-performing teams or team members encounter conflicts, your managers should be able to address them quickly and eliminate all misunderstandings.

“Changes? What for? I mean, everything is okay.”

High-performance culture in the workplace presupposes the readiness for constant changes; this is how innovations are made. Sharlyn Lauby, the author of the blog HR Bartender, says that’s “one of the reasons that individuals are reluctant to change–because there’s this assumption that change means what we’re currently doing is wrong. And that’s simply not the case. I also think that’s why becoming a high-performing organization is so difficult.” Make sure your managers are open to changes by embracing them yourself.

“I’m not shouting, I’m just a natural loud-talker.”

One of the important aspects of managers’ jobs is to make employees feel safe and to prevent any additional stressful situations. Your people should be free to speak their minds, take initiatives, and ask questions. Your managers should also support your employees at times of personal and professional challenges, creating the feeling that they belong. In fact, Google research shows that teams with psychologically safe environments have employees who are more loyal, productive, and successful.

Keep in mind that high-performance culture in the workplace is only possible when you care about your people. Constantly develop your high-performers, listen to their needs, and align their professional goals with your business objectives to achieve efficiency and be in the league with top-notch organizations.

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